‘Cheap and flammable’ insulation cited in Glasgow fire

‘Cheap and flammable’ insulation cited in Glasgow fire

A NEWSPAPER investigation claims that ‘cheap and flammable’ insulation panels were used in refurbishment of the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building, which recently burnt down.

The listed building recently caught fire after a previous blaze in 2014. Sprinklers ‘had not been fitted’ after the first fire at the Mackintosh Library in the building, which was ‘almost entirely destroyed by fire’ in May 2014.  A spokesperson for the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) stated at first that ‘it was understood’ that automatic sprinklers had not been fully fitted due to the building undergoing refurbishment’.

The previous fire began when flammable gases from a foam canister were ignited accidentally, with a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) report concluding in that case that old ventilation ducts had helped the spread into neighbouring studios and upwards throughout the building. Now, Herald Scotland has reported that flammable insulation panels that ‘also give off toxic gases when set alight’ were used in the refurbishment, ‘rather than more expensive mineral ones which do not burn’.

It stated that fire inspectors are still investigating ‘whether these’ materials used ‘exacerbated the spread of the fire’, and described the insulation panels as ‘similar to those used’ on Grenfell Tower. Having asked ‘several times’ for full details of insulation materials used on the building, and submitting questions under the freedom of information act, the outlet stated that the art school, Historic and Environment Scotland and architects Page/Park ‘have refused to divulge them’.

Having been referred to Glasgow City Council’s planning and building control departments ‘which had no involvement’, and had not been consulted ‘about the choice of insulation’, Herald Scotland stated that only improvements and additions needed to be vetted by the council. It claims that 100mm polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation was used, describing it as ‘flammable’ but between two sheets of aluminium foil ‘designed to stop it catching fire’.

In turn, the roof underlay was ‘also flammable’, with there being ‘no suggestion’ that the materials ‘breached any building regulations or British Standards’. Herald Scotland asked whether PIR was specified ‘because it is cheaper than the mineral equivalents’, but received no response. It had been confirmed in the RIBA Journal earlier this year, by Page/Park, that PIR was installed, and that flammable paint pigments and oil washes used ‘may have also helped spread’ the fire.

Expanding foam was used to fill gaps between foam panels fastened to walls before the first fire, with nobody held responsible for that or the later fire, with Glasgow School of Art officials ordering staff not to ‘speak to the media’. In response, former senior member of staff Eileen Reid pointed out that ‘this was not the first time the school had tried to silence its own employees’, with staff and former students having raised safety concerns after the first fire but had been ‘silenced’.

A spokesman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service responded to the story by noting that the investigation into the cause of the fire was ‘still ongoing’.